Thursday, March 25, 2004

Senate panel OKs price-gouging bill

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Legislation pushed by the attorney general's office to crack down on price gouging in times of emergency was approved by a Senate committee on Wednesday.

Retailers could be fined for selling goods at amounts "grossly in excess" of prices before the emergency. The bill would apply to food, fuel, medical and emergency supplies and building materials.

The bill, already passed by the House, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It now goes to the full Senate. Today was the General Assembly's last scheduled day for routine bill-passing.

Democratic Rep. Tommy Thompson of Owensboro, the bill's lead sponsor, said it would protect consumers "from those who would attempt to exploit them during a crisis."

The bill would be triggered when the governor declares a state of emergency or when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues a code-red alert, the highest in the nation's five-color terror alert system.

The attorney general's office could bring charges against retailers for jacking up prices amid a crisis. Retailers could be fined up to $5,000 for a first offense and up to $10,000 for subsequent violations.

Under the original bill, violators could have been sent to jail for one year for a first offense. Repeated violations would have carried prison sentences of one to five years.

The Senate panel dropped the criminal penalties.

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